UCI president Brian Cookson says he is looking to tighten regulations to prevent the misuse of a number of substances within the peloton. Referring to cortisone and tramadol in particular, Cookson said he was keen to ‘de-medicalise’ the practices of professional cycling.
The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report made reference to a number of grey area products which are not currently banned but which may be being misused by cyclists to gain improvements in performance.
Cookson told CyclingTips that the way some substances are used raises ethical questions.
“I think that although we have hugely reduced the amount of doping within our sport – and the CIRC report confirms that – I think what is worrying is that doping is still going on.
“It is at a much lower level, it is under the radar, it is not organised in a way that it was ten, fifteen years ago by teams, for instance, but it is still happening and there is still this abuse of things that are strictly allowed under the regulations but might be perhaps ethically challenging in other ways.
“So I want to try to de-medicalise – if I can put it that way – the practices of professional cycling and cycling of all levels.”
Cookson said it was important to take note of what had been said by the CIRC with regards to cortisone, in particular. One doctor quoted in the report claimed that UCI WorldTour wins had been secured after team management organised for several riders to get their weight down using corticoids. The doctor estimated that losing 4kg in four weeks by using corticoids would provide a seven per cent power/weight improvement.
It is believed that therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) could be exploited in such cases and Cookson says this is an area that demands scrutiny.
“I am anxious to look at the TUE regulations, for instance. TUEs are allowed under the WADA Code, as you know. If we have a set of particular circumstances that are facilitating the use of substances which are in the rules but perhaps ethically challenging, then I think we ought to try to exceed the WADA Code if we can.
“But I want to makes sure if ever get challenged under those circumstances, that we are in a position that is legally defensible.”
Tramadol is also believed to be a major problem. The powerful painkiller presents obvious benefits to an endurance athlete, but some riders say that it also encourages risk-taking and brings a degree of disorientation.
Again, Cookson feels the UCI needs to be in a position that is legally sound before taking any action. Tramadol is on the WADA watch list but is not currently banned and so if the UCI were to hand out suspensions, the affected riders could appeal.
A number of current riders have been critical of the CIRC report, arguing that it fails to paint an accurate picture of the peloton. Cookson recognises that a broader perspective is needed but has little sympathy with those complaining.
“What we are going to do now is a prevalence study. We are going to analyse our own data to look at what we thing is happening. We are going to talk to more riders and more teams to get a better picture and we will be doing that over the course of this season.
“But I have got no time for people who say ‘they never asked me to contribute.’ They knew where this commission was, they had 13 months to talk to it. If they didn’t talk to it, it is a bit rich complaining afterwards.”